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Dr Cardoso and Dr Ferrando secondment to NIST – US

RAIN researcher’s Dr Rafael C. Cardoso and Dr Angelo Ferrando were not able to go to their secondment at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they have been collaborating virtually with NIST in two different projects.

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REMOTE INSPECTION OF THE REACTOR 4 SHELTER’S WESTERN WALL

In October 2020, a Bristol University research team with engineers and scientists from the Interface Analysis Centre deployed a semi-autonomous robot for remote radiation inspection inside the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) in Ukraine.

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ISCF ROBOTS FOR A SAFER WORLD CROSS-HUB ACTIVITIES

The use of robots and AI represents the future of critical infrastructure inspection, repair and maintenance.  Through the ISCF’s ‘Robots for a Safer World’ scheme, four world-leading research hubs; FAIRSPACENCNRORCA and RAIN, have been developing solutions for use in hazardous and challenging environments, such as those found in the nuclear, offshore and space sectors.

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ROBOTIC INSPECTION OF ACTIVE SITES AT DOUNREAY

The RAIN Hub has successfully trialled a robot in an active deployment at the Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd (DSRL) nuclear reactor research facility, now in the process of decommissioning. RAIN’s remit is to develop robotic and AI solutions to meet user-led challenges in the nuclear industry. A team of RAIN researchers has been working with DSRL to understand where our technology might benefit them.

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DEVELOPMENT OF PIPE INSPECTION ROBOT

Despite the COVID lockdown inhibiting lab access, RAIN PDRA Nick Castledine has been making great progress developing prototypes for a pipe inspection platform. Read on to hear more about his latest research progress. He also presented his work at one of the recent RAIN webinars.

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3D MAPPING WITH HANDHELD SENSORS AT WALKING PACE

In the film Prometheus (2012) a team of astronauts explored the underground lair of the mysterious “Engineers” and used a flying device to quickly map the environment. Slightly less mysterious engineers in Oxford Robotics Institute have developed a handheld mapping device capable of mapping large facilities at walking speed.

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RACE SHARES ROBOTICS EXPERTISE

Building networks between research and industry is a fundamental principle of the RAIN Hub. Early meetings between RAIN and Rolls Royce (RR) explored ways in which RAIN could support the short and long-term objectives of RR. In addition to collaborative projects and robotic deployments, sharing the expertise that RACE has in both designing for robotics and the long-term integration of robotics into regular operations was identified as valuable to RR. To this end, a series of four workshops were held between RACE and (RR) over the summer.

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RAIN PM ACTS AS GUINEA-PIG FOR COVID VACCINE TRIAL

The RAIN programme manager, John Jukes, took some moments off from spreadsheets and enthusiastically coordinating team RAIN to take part in the COVID vaccine trial. He recounts his experiences here.

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REMOTE INSPECTION WORKING GROUP (RIWG) TRIALS IN DRUMMED WASTE STORE

As part of the RAIN project, the Remote Inspection Working Group (RIWG) has been developing a range of technologies to allow autonomous ground vehicles to characterise and monitor facilities that process and store waste from the nuclear industry. As part of this work, we have been developing a relationship with the UKAEA Waste Consignments team in Culham. In this relationship we have been working to understand the different requirements the UKAEA team have for autonomous systems in monitoring and managing temporarily stored waste, and helping them understand the technology currently under development in the RAIN consortium. As part of this process, UKAEA have allowed us to trial various robotic inspection systems in their low hazard drummed waste store in Culham.

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DR. TILLY ALTON’S SECONDMENT TO THE OXFORD ROBOTICS INSTITUTE

RAIN researcher Dr Tilly Alton was seconded to the Oxford Robotics Institute (ORI) at The University of Oxford to work along the RAIN Remote Inspection team there. Read about her experience here.

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HRI – HUMAN ROBOT INTERACTION

HRI – Human Robot Interaction – is one of five key research themes within the RAIN Hub. This subject connects human beings with the mechanised tools that could allow us to work more safely and efficiently. The importance of HRI comes down to a simple concept; the kit can be as fancy as you like but it needs to be easy to use otherwise people won’t want to use it. As one of our underlying research themes, HRI underpins all of the research that is done as part of the three working groups. However, it has not been such a visible focus of our work as the Remote Handling, Remote Inspection and Safety Case challenge areas. External review of RAIN’s progress highlighted this as something to improve; so here we outline some of the recent work in HRI.

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RAIN MEETS WITH INDUSTRY

Our mission is to develop Robotics and AI solutions to industry-led challenge owners. Since even before the RAIN Hub formed, we have regularly engaged with the nuclear supply chain, operators and challenge owners to really inform our research.

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EUROPEAN ROBOTICS FORUM 2020

Members of the RAIN team attended the 11th Annual European Robotics Forum (ERF) ‘Future Robotics – Unlocking Human Potential’ from 3-5th March this year. The event was held at The Trade Fair and Congress Centre of Malaga (FYCMA) and delivered through a series of presentations, workshops and an exhibition filled with technology from across Europe.

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EXPANSION REPORT: FLEXIBLE/MODULAR RADIATION SENSING FOR MOBILE ROBOTS

Createc and the RAIN team based at the Oxford Robotics Institute (ORI) joined forces to combine Createc’s radiation sensing capabilities with ORI’s mobile robot platforms. They were awarded funding from the RAIN Expansion scheme to do this work. The project was a great success, and has led to further funding and collaborative work. Paul Murcutt, from the ORI, summarises the work below.

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DR INMO JANG’S SECONDMENT TO JAPAN

RAIN researcher Dr Inmo Jang has been seconded at the University of Tokyo (Prof Hajime Asama’s lab) as a JAEA/CLADS (Japan Atomic Energy Agency Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science) NEST (Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology) Fellow. Decommissioning the Primary containment Vessels (PCVs) at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants is an enormous technological challenge. Robots inside the PCVs can be used to remotely handle nuclear-contaminated objects. This secondment focused on providing efficient and practical telepresence to a human operator when controlling a robot remotely, within this unique environment.

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SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION BETWEEN CREATEC AND ORI LEADS TO FURTHER FUNDING

The RAIN Hub innovation fund can be used to kick start collaborations between industry and RAIN research groups. Last year, Ioannis Havoutis, Maurice Fallon and Nick Hawes from the Oxford Robotics Institute (ORI) applied to fund a joint work program with Createc. Createc is an innovative company, based in Cumbria, developing new applications of imaging technology.

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WORKSHOP TO UNDERSTAND THE EFFECTS OF RADIATION ON ROBOTIC SYSTEMS

Robotic systems could radically improve safety and efficiency in the nuclear industry, however, robots are not immune to damage from radiation. A thorough understanding of what causes this damage, and how to counter it, can drastically improve how we design robots to work in this hazardous environment. Last week, Steve Walters and Steve Watts put together a workshop that gave participants a background in why radiation can be a problem, how to counter the effects of radiation, and how to calculate the damage that may be caused.

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SLAM SECONDMENT IN JAPAN

Rain researcher Dr Thomas Wright has recently undertaken a secondment at the Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Sciences (CLADS) in Japan. This work forms part of an ongoing collaborations with the Japanese Atomic Energy Authority (JAEA) and University of Tokyo, formed by the University of Manchester and continued through the RAIN Hub.

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TESTING ANYMAL AT RACE

The RAIN team from Oxford Robotics Institute visited RACE to test out their ANYmal at the mobility benchmarking lanes. This is part of their work to test the reliability of different mobile robots. The terrain course, consisting of three ‘lanes’, was first developed by NIST, the U.S’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The lanes provide a standard benchmark for all small/medium wheeled, tracked and legged robots.

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RAIN RESEARCHERS AWARDED TWO NATIONAL NUCLEAR USER FACILITY GRANTS

Successes within the RAIN Hub have solidified bids for additional funding to extend our work in essential areas. RAIN researchers have been awarded two grants from the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF) fund, from UK Research and Innovation, to support new and unique research facilities.

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DELIVERING CHANGE THROUGH ROBOTICS AT SELLAFIELD

Over 350 people joined us in Cumbria for an event centred on the past, present and future use of Robotics and AI at Sellafield.

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LIVERPOOL TEAM WINS ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL MULTI-AGENT PROGRAMMING CONTEST

A cross-Hub team from Liverpool has won the annual international Multi-Agent Programming Contest (https://multiagentcontest.org/). This Contest tests how multiple autonomous entities (e.g robots) can coordinate their actions and plan to achieve the best outcome.

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AUTONOMOUS ROBOT ASSET INSPECTION IN THE ENERGY INDUSTRY

On a classically grey Manchester day we collaborated with the HOME Offshore project to hold a workshop on “Autonomous robot asset inspection in the energy industry”.

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OUTREACH ACTIVITIES

An important element of the RAIN Hub’s work is our mission to communicate the challenges faced by the nuclear industry, and our robotic and AI solutions, to the general public. To facilitate this, we have developed some outreach games. These have been designed with two of our working groups in mind; remote handling and remote inspection.

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THREE NEW ACADEMIC RESEARCH PARTNERS IN RAIN

We have added three new institutions to the RAIN Hub. They are tasked with carrying out projects that are complimentary to work already ongoing in the hub, in areas we wanted to draw in additional expertise. It is great to welcome them to the team!

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FORMAL METHODS IN AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS WORKSHOP

Dr Matt Luckcuck and Prof. Michael Fisher, in collaboration with Dr Marie Farrell from the FAIR-SPACE Hub, organised an academic workshop on the robust verification and validation of autonomous systems. The workshop, entitled ‘Formal Methods for Autonomous Systems’ (FMAS) was held on the 11th of October at the Third World Congress on Formal Methods, in Porto.

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REMOTE INSPECTION WORKING GROUP AT BRISTOL

The Remote Inspection Working group is working on both characterisation and long term monitoring and change detection of spaces in the nuclear industry. In August, they tested some new kit at the University of Bristol’s Fenswood Farm facility.

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DR. MATHIEU GEISERT AWARDED BEST PAPER AT TAROS 2019

Many RAIN researchers were at the Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems (TAROS) Conference held in London in July this year. The conference was held at the newly built Mile End campus of the Queen Mary University of London. Many interesting papers were presented, including by RAIN researchers from Oxford Robotics Institute (ORI) and the University of Manchester. Delegates this year particularly enjoyed an excellent set of keynote talks delivered from leading researchers from industry and academia, covering topics including machine learning, robotic manipulation and an overview of robotics at Google DeepMind.

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RAIN DEMONSTRATION DAY

In the RAIN Hub we want to work actively with industry and end users. We are working in a different way to standard academic research projects, aiming to really understand the challenges faced by the nuclear industry. Our three working groups were formed to aid this process: Remote Handling, Remote Inspection and Safety Case. In March this year, we invited our network of industry contacts to a demonstration day in Manchester. We had over 20 pieces of technology on display, including various robotic platforms, sensor technology, and using virtual reality for control.

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TWO RAIN RESEARCHERS AWARDED CHAIR IN EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced their highly prestigious Chairs in Emerging Technologies. This funding champions disruptive innovations, providing long term support for research that has a potentially huge economic and social benefit. Two of the 9 awards have gone to RAIN researchers. Professors Barry Lennox and Michael Fisher were both awarded funding to support their research programmes. The funding lasts for ten years and will enable them to progress their research through to deployment and commercialisation stages.

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SAFETY CASE WORKSHOP 2

Safety is a primary focus in the nuclear industry and is an integral feature of design, development, operations and decommissioning. In the UK, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is the independent body which ensures that nuclear sites are suitably regulated and held accountable on behalf of the public. To this end, they require that nuclear site operators provide safety cases for their systems. A Safety Case is a structured argument that is used to provide evidence that a nuclear task system is safe. It considers aspects such as risks, failure modes, training needs, and reliability data. It is a concise and clear document, owned by the nuclear operator. Naturally, every nuclear site operator has a relationship with the ONR and, until recently, that relationship has been perceived as rather distant. Within RAIN we recognise the advantages of collaboration. We have arranged a series of workshops bringing together the ONR, nuclear operators, and academics. The first Safety Case Workshop was held in September last year. Details and presentations can be found online.

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MOBILE ROBOT SCANS UKAEA WASTE STORE

The RAIN Hub is built on an ethos of forging new connections. These new connections link people, technologies and places to solve real-life challenges. One particular challenge area for RAIN is that of Remote Inspection; the ability to remotely deploy sensors to specific target areas in order to retrieve useful, accurate and timely data.

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HUB DIRECTORS MEETING

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Hubs are four organisations tasked with undertaking world-leading research, deploying technologies with end-users and fostering collaboration and community within their fields of extreme environments. Those environments are space (FAIR-SPACE), off-shore (ORCA) and nuclear (NCNR and RAIN). With four brand new entities there with naturally be commonalities in approach coupled with sector-specific strategies. With a three-and-a-half-year programme for each Hub (Oct 2017 to Mar 2021), the governance associated with such an undertaking is an important part of the recipe for success.

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INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY CHALLENGE FUND, KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER NETWORK EVENT

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) has £93m allocated to the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) sector. Naturally, with such an investment it makes perfect sense to maximise the value from such a budget. Part of the value is derived from the results expected from each separate project, of which there are many in this fund. But a wider part of the value to be harvested from such a fund is the cross-pollination of ideas and approaches that can occur when those involved in the separate work streams come together in an event focused on a common theme.

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KUKA GLOVEBOX REMOTE HANDLING DEMONSTRATION

The latest exciting industry-relevant remote handling demonstration from RACE includes two collaborative Kuka robot arms and Robotiq grippers. The newest iteration of the system allows for the robot arms and grippers to be moved and controlled via a pair of custom-built gloves, while a VR headset allows the user to track movements in digital space.

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NEW UNIVERSITIES MINISTER VISITS RAIN … TWICE!

The RAIN Hub is funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), part of the Government’s modern industrial strategy. Through supporting a Hub that is tasked with taking academic research to the nuclear industry, the government is hoping to stimulate the development and application of technology in the real world.

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RAIN HUB BIG MEET

The RAIN Hub recently got together to share their research and ideas.

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AI-ASSISTED TELEOPERATION OF DUAL ARMS

RAIN hub researcher Inmo Jang has is developing a smart teleoperated robot system that will allow a human operator to safely work away from hazardous areas and improve the performance using Virtual/Augmented reality and AI assistance.

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FIRST TRIALS OF A SUBMERSIBLE RAMAN INSPECTION PLATFORM

RAIN researchers, from the Universities of Bristol and Manchester, have been working together to develop a new submersible remote inspection platform.

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VENTURING TOWARDS THE ‘UNKNOWN ROOM’

We recently saw the first culmination of a joint RAIN demonstrator project with the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and the Universities of Manchester and Bristol. The ‘Unknown Room’ project has seen the two university teams develop a pair of robotic platforms with an in-common interchangeable gamma and neutron detection system. The challenge is to survey a high hazard facility to determine the location, energy and character of any radiation sources. This detailed understanding of dose and criticality risk in the facility will allow decision makers to devise a manned or robotic strategy for decommissioning.

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ADVENTURES IN JAPAN – REACTOR CORES AND DRAGON EGGS

In October 2018, a team from the University of Bristol ventured to Japan. This was led by RAIN researchers Professor Tom Scott and Dr Yannick Verbelen, with Dr Chris Hutson and PhD student Dean Connor.

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ROBOTICS AND AI IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS: WHAT’S THE FUTURE?

This is a guest post by Innovate UK. Innovate UK are the British government’s innovation agency. They are focused on finding British businesses and entrepreneurs who can use new science and technology to drive economic growth.

They have recently created The Innovation Podcast. The first episode is about Robotics, you can listen on iTunes Stitcher or here.

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JUNE 2018 USER GROUP MEETINGS

The first RAIN user group meetings took place in early June 2018. The RAIN Hub strives to solve industry lead challenges, moving technologies into Technology Readiness Levels 6/7. To do this, it is essential we engage with a variety of end users, regulatory bodies and the supply chain. These first two events focused on Remote Inspection and Remote Handling and had over 50 attendees from a mixture of partners. A mixed set of delegates enabled great discussions with a wide range of perspectives. There will be another workshop discussing the nuclear safety case in September.

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TESTING THE AVEXIS IN FUKUSHIMA

The AVEXIS® is a small submersible tethered Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). It has been designed to fit through a 6 inch port, move through water, and characterise the space it is in. This essential information is difficult to assess within high risk environments such as nuclear storage facilities, or the hazardous environment at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

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GRANT AWARDED AND STARTED IN OCTOBER 2017

Funded by EPSRC, this is one of four hubs awarded following their call for large projects relating to “Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Hubs in Extreme and Challenging (Hazardous) Environments” in May 2017.

EPSRC press release: https://epsrc.ukri.org/newsevents/news/break-through-robotics-ai-funded-iscf/

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RAIN RESEARCHERS PRESENTED AT WASTE MANAGEMENT SYMPOSIUM 2018

www.wmsym.org

Researchers from Manchester had a stand about Robots which have been actively deployed by Sellafield, and tested in Fukushima.

Researchers from the rest of the RAIN community also attending and participating in the symposium